The Ashland University men's and women's indoor track & field teams are embarking on a trip to Pittsburg, Kan., to compete in the NCAA Division II Championships on Friday and Saturday (March 9-10).
The AU men are taking nine athletes, while the women's team will bring five to nationals. Both are coming off solid performances at the GLIAC Championships, in which the women finished second and the men third.
"We had a great GLIAC meet, especially for our women," said AU head coach Jud Logan. "There's a lot of programs in the country that would be thrilled taking five athletes. We've been working really hard to build the women's program back up to where we were when we were second in the country and pushing for podiums. I think it was important for our women at the GLIAC to have that success and finish second. That was neat."
Three of the five female athletes going to nationals rank in the top 10 in their events, led by junior Natalie Helenthal, who is ranked fifth in the weight throw. Freshman Gianna DiPippo ranks 10th in that event, and senior Hannah Bartlome is seventh in the high jump.
The AU men will also try to set themselves up for a podium finish at the national championships, where they were national runners-up last year. The men enter this year's meet ranked sixth in the nation, with the women ranked 22nd.
"We had PRs all over the place at the GLIAC meet. That's what you should do," said Logan. "We don't put an overemphasis on conference like a lot of teams do, because that's their final destination. We pride ourselves on peaking at nationals. We want to be an NCAA team.
"We leave with one focus, and it's not a national championship like it might have been a year ago where we maybe put a little too much pressure on ourselves. It's neat that on the men's side we're not showing up in the top four podium teams. I think if we go in and compete to our ability, we're a podium team."
The Eagles have a chance to post major points in several events, starting with junior Myles Pringle, who will go to nationals as one of the nation's busiest athletes. He will compete in the 200 dash, 400 dash, high jump and 4x400 relay. His current marks lead Division II in the 400 dash and high jump. The 4x400 squad, which consists of three freshmen (Trevor Bassitt, Brenden Archer and Channing Phillips), is seeded fourth in the nation.
Logan said Pringle, the defending national champion in the indoor 400 dash, will be ready for that challenge.
"Myles Pringle has to get ready to do a lot this weekend," said Logan. "Two weeks ago, he ran the open 400, prelims of the 400, the finals of the 400, the prelims of the 200, the finals of the 200, he high jumped and ran the 4x400. Those are all the things he's going to do at nationals. You just don't go do that without experiencing that during the year."
Pringle is also one of the more experienced members of a group traveling to nationals that consists mostly of underclassmen. For the throwers, sophomore Alex Hill has taken on the leadership role after the departure of several seniors and upperclassmen from last year's squad.
Hill and freshman Brent Fairbanks come into the meet ranked as the top two weight throwers in Division II.
"I didn't know this year who would step up and take that leadership role, but it's been Alex Hill," said Logan. "Not so much by a vocal yelling and screaming in practice. It's been more leading by example and mentoring Brent Fairbanks in one-on-one conversations about what it's going to be like."
But he also mentioned that Fairbanks, one of the top three throwers in high school last year, will not shy away from opportunities after competing in the junior championships and the New Balance national championships in the past.
"Brent is very accustomed to the big stage," said Logan. "He's not afraid of the big stage, he kind of revels in that moment."
The preparation for the meet began in the fall, and now, the Eagles will see how they fare on the national level.
"The program is going to be on point," said Logan. "They're going to be recovered, rested and healthy. It's now the coaches and athletes who have to take that responsibility and make sure we're in a good mental place as we go forward."